Add to bookbag
Author: Julie Holcomb
Title: Print Resources in History and Computing
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
August 2007

This work is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Permission must be received for subsequent distribution in print or electronically. Please contact for more information.

Source: Print Resources in History and Computing
Julie Holcomb

vol. 10, no. 2, August 2007
Article Type: Column

Print Resources in History and Computing

Julie Holcomb

Column Editor

Julie Holcomb has worked for the Pearce Collections at Navarro College since 2001, serving first as the College and Special Collections Archivist and then as director of its Civil War and Western Art Museums and Archives. In this column she present reviews of print resources in history and computing and allied disciplines.

The Journal of the Association for History and Computing, JAHC, presents the latest print research in the use of computers and computing in historical studies. To that end, this column presents the latest print research in the application of computers to the field of history. However, this column recognizes that relevant print resources for readers of the JAHC cannot be narrowly defined by the fields of technology and history. Thus, print resources reviewed in this column address a broad array of disciplines and applications of computers and computing in these disciplines though always with attention to how these resources may inform and shape our practice of history.

Commentary and queries should be addressed to:

Print resources

Entries are listed in alphabetical order by author

In the Print Resources column in this issue, our reviewers consider the some of the latest monographs published by MIT Press. Jennifer Papin-Ramcharan reviews Women and Information Technology: Research on Underrepresentation. Despite advances in computer and Internet access, women are still under-represented in information technology. The editors of Women and Information Technology have compiled a series of National Science Foundation research studies in an attempt to define the problem and its possible solutions. J.B. Owens provides a thoughtful review of Georeferencing: The Geographic Associations of Information by Linda L. Hill. Georeferencing, which is the practice of relating information to geographic location, holds great potential for historians in all fields according to Hill and Owens. In the final review, Carol Fitzgerald, reviews David E. Nye's Technology Matters: Questions to Live With. Nye's work considers explores the human relationship of tools and technology.

J McGrath Cohoon and William Aspray, eds. Women and Information Technology Research on Underrepresentation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2006. xviii + 500pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $45, (Hardcover), ISBN-10: 0262033453, ISBN-13: 978-0262033459.

The problem of women's low participation in Information Technology (IT) has been a topic for research and discussion since the early 1980s. This under-representation continues today despite the large advances made in computer and Internet access. Clearly, measures used to try to correct this problem over the years have not worked. Why is this problem important and why does this gender imbalance continue? If you are tired of the usual rhetoric, in-expert opinion or anecdotal evidence that often follows these questions, then this book is for you.

J. McGrath Cohoon and William Aspray, the editors of this book, believe that understanding the complexities of the problem will aid the creation of new strategies to reverse the under-representation of women in IT. They further assert that this understanding can only be garnered by the shining of the "hard, cold light of scientific research on the situation" (ix-x). This book sets out to do just that.

As its title suggests, the book is a compilation of research studies on the subject of the low participation of women in IT. The research studies reported here are of very high repute since many were funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and authored by academics and researchers.

The book is divided into three sections: I: "Diverging Interests" consisting of five chapters (pp.3-180), which consider the points at which girls' interest in computing deviate from boys. Section II,"Postsecondary Education" consists of seven chapters (pp.183-374). Section III, "Pathways into the Workforce" consists of three chapters (pp.377-470) that not only look at women's transition into the IT workforce but also their subsequent progress. The reader will be pleased to find an index included (18 pages, 2 columns) as a useful aid for locating information in the book.

Each of the sections in the book starts with a chapter that is essentially a review of the literature. Chapter 1 at the start of Section I is a 52 page review of the "State of Research on Girls and IT". Chapter 5 reviews "Women's Participation in Postsecondary Computing Education" (pp.137-180).Chapter 13 at the start of Section III reviews issues related to the workforce and careers in IT. Thus, together the sections consider the factors which affect the gender composition of computing at the different stages of a woman's life, from girls, to teenagers then to women.

The chapters are organized as formal research reports having an introductory opening section, often a review of the relevant literature pertaining to that chapter, discussions of relevant theory where applicable, a description of the research method, results, discussion and conclusion followed by explanatory notes and an exhaustive list of references. For example, chapter 1 includes 135 references. Clear black and white illustrations (tables, charts and graphs) are used effectively throughout to illustrate the research data and results.

In their ten page introduction, the editors give the rationale for the book and summarize its contents. Interestingly, they also include here a table which gives an overview of the various topics and research methods used in each chapter. This is an extremely valuable finding aid for those readers interested in particular research methodologies rather than the subject at hand.

This book is not just about women and IT but discusses many other related issues e.g. race and minority and diversity issues, non-traditional education (pp.239-278) and pedagogy (pp.168-170).We read with interest discussions about "computer geeks" (pp.38-39) and so-called "geek mythology" (p. 324) and the off-shoring of IT jobs (p.408).

The book concludes by reminding us of its accomplishments. The reader has been given high quality reviews of the literature that reveal gaps in the research on women's participation in IT, exposing areas for further research. We have been given model studies that we can emulate in the conduct of this research. The research studies reported also suggest solutions or interventions. The editors remind us that research into the problem of women's participation in IT and the application of interventions do not have to take place sequentially to work well but can occur concurrently. All that is required is that we assess the effectiveness of the interventions by using scientific research methods like those described in this book (p.473).

If the book has one small shortcoming, it is that most of the research described was conducted in the United States with a U.S. context. With the exception of chapter 6 by Maria Charles and Karen Bradley which gives a cross national study of under- representation in Computer Science, and two of the literature reviews (chapters 1and 13), the rest of the chapters report research only in the United States.

All in all, the quality of research presented in this book makes it a "must have." This book is highly recommended for educators, policy makers, computer and social scientists and for those who need example research studies and methodologies that they can apply to their own research.

Jennifer Papin-Ramcharan,
Librarian II, Engineering and Physical Sciences,
The University of the West Indies,
St. Augustine Campus

Linda L. Hill. Georeferencing: The Geographic Associations of Information. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006. Digital Libraries and Electronic Publishing series. xiii + 260 pp.; 74 illustrations; glossary; references; index to geographic examples; index. Cloth. $35.00. ISBN 0-262-08354-X - 978-0-262-08354-6.

Linda Hill's splendid book should be on every historian's shelf of essential research guides and on the required reading list for all history graduate programs. I admit that bias influences this unqualified assertion. I am the co-creator of my university's Master's degree program in geographically-integrated history, which is based on the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and related information technologies. Hill's book will become the common text of our graduate core courses, and it will be used for some of the courses of our undergraduate curriculum, which has a distinctively "spatial turn." However, although GIS professionals will find the book useful, it does not focus on GIS. Instead, the author provides her readers with a comprehensive introduction to relating information to geographic location. Historians will become increasingly aware of the value and convenience of tying to place the information they accumulate through research or for teaching, and current graduate students should learn the techniques and concepts of georeferencing now. The georeferencing Hill describes involves combining references to placenames with geospatial referencing to longitude and latitude coordinates that define the information's footprint on the earth's surface. As she explains, in the digital world, "placename" is one of those words that users have transformed from two words to one, as in "online" (20).

As the sites in which we obtain and use geospatial information become more ubiquitous in our lives, in our cars and homes and through our cell phones, and spatial thinking and conversations about digital representations of places and routes become more widespread within populations accustomed to Internet services such as Google Earth, historians will increasingly be expected to use digital forms of information management and to integrate their data on the basis of geographic place. If we do not make this transformation, historians will not be consulted by those who need to understand human action within complex human communities and change over time. For understanding, they will be left in the hands of social scientists conditioned to seek simplified, reductionist "laws," which frequently undermine our comprehension and ability to craft effective responses to problems. University administrators will continue the progressive marginalization of history as a discipline within the academy and the denial of resources adequate to keep the discipline intellectually viable. Hill provides a clear guide to what historians need to know to reshape their research and teaching in attractive ways.

Although now retired, through her long association with the Alexander Digital Library (ADL) at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Hill has developed an outstanding grasp of georeferenced information and its uses. The ADL provides users access to its catalog and contents via remote Internet connections so that they can find information about geographic locations. Because she has thought so carefully for so many years about what people need to know about georeferencing, she is able to develop this book through logically organized and clearly written chapters, which expose readers to the terms and concepts they need to know. Although not written only for historians, I enjoyed reading an introductory book on a technical subject, unified georeferencing, which explicitly takes into account our concerns. Hill uses the term "unified georeferencing" to refer to a system in which placenames and geospatial coding of some sort facilitate the retrieval of data, including images in different formats, texts and tabular data in different languages and expressing different points of view, information prepared by disciplinary specialists who normally do not communicate with one another, and the locations of resources not available in digital form, from large collections with different characteristics. In book reviews, I do not normally slog through the text chapter by chapter, but I will do so in this case because many historians will not be familiar yet with many of the technical subjects with which Hill deals, although they need to develop such familiarity.

After an introductory chapter discussing the history of georeferencing, key terms, and the book's organization, Hill provides a stimulating synthesis of what cognitive psychology has discovered about human perception of and response to geographic space. This information provides the foundation for georeferenced information system design of effective tools for the retrieval, aggregation, and analysis of data. Just enough research has been done to make me think that historians would do well to take into account evidence of the expression of different spatial understandings in the past and to represent appropriately such differences in any databases in order to avoid distortion by shaping the historic data to contemporary practices. The evolution of complex human communities has produced significant transformations of values, ideas, and perceptions, which change such communities to such an extent that we have trouble grasping the way people on the other side, in the past, did things. Any cognitive differences could extend to the spatial. This possibility adds importance to Hill's assertion of the value of organizing and retrieving data on the basis of a geospatial footprint on the earth's surface as opposed to using relationships based solely on placename or text references.

Chapter 3's title, "Georeferenced Information Object Types and Their Characteristics," might intimidate the uninitiated, but in it, Hill provides a clear, concise introduction to available information objects that are explicitly georeferenced. Historians will increasingly have as their audience people who are used to a variety of geospatial services, and this type of literacy will demand that historians possess a familiarity with the sources described in this chapter. Hill closes with a brief discussion of the indirect georeferencing to placenames in texts. Historians should pay close attention to the brief discussion of Time Map software (60-62), which explains a useful system for organizing information on the basis of both location and time.

Most historians make frequent use of maps, at least in the classroom, but the majority knows too little about these abstractions of the earth's surface and human activities. If not before, all historians beginning graduate study should be required to read chapter 4 of this book, in which Hill explains the subject. When I suggest to colleagues that they should georeference their information, they frequently respond that they do not know the "exact" location, by which they mean that they cannot provide the precise longitude and latitude for each item in their data set. Hill provides an excellent response about how to handle the problem and the level of uncertainty a lack of precise coordinates might introduce into a researcher's conclusions. I can add that if someone wants to start a valuable classroom discussion of the possible sources for understanding a particular period, he or she will get good results by asking the students about the level of precision represented on a map of some human phenomenon, such as language differences between regions separated by some sort of boundary and color differences. Hill also explains why we should express coordinates as "longitude and latitude" rather than the other way around.

All historians have wondered, even those with an impressively vast knowledge of the world's geographic features, where a particular place is located. To find out, we require some sort of gazetteer, and these essential reference tools are the subject of chapter 5. Hill's professional association with one of the best, the Alexandria Digital Library (ADL) Gazetteer, which is the first one that I teach my students to use, assures the reader that she writes on the subject with considerable authority. Those of us who teach and investigate about chronological periods that predate processes of renaming geographical features will support the development of online gazetteer services with a strong historical component. This chapter not only explains the major types of gazetteer, it also explains the standards for the creation of a good one.

As historians make ever more information available on the Internet, they will have to learn about metadata, the information about their data which will make it possible for others to find what they have produced and to use it with confidence with other similar information. The possibilities for dealing with important historical questions through data sharing are vast, when you think about it, because there is no type of human activity or characteristic which could not be subjected to georeferencing. Chapter 6 introduces the important subject of metadata with an emphasis on the georeferencing of the elements within a metadata record. Because historians make heavy use of archives and libraries, and their catalogs, they will discover that metadata is not the arcane subject it seems to be the first time they hear the term.

Once we have lots of information georeferenced and easily available on the Internet or in some large digital database, we will still be confronted by problems when we try to retrieve everything available for a particular geographic location. In chapter 7, Hill explains these and the work being done now on geographic information retrieval (GIR). Because historians will increasingly find themselves searching for available information in this way, they will want to understand how to formulate effective queries, and this need will require them to understand something about the basic principles so that they discover all of the possible data.

I was already impressed and fascinated by Hill's book long before I reached the final chapter, "Future of Georeferencing," but because it is here she introduces research on the temporal dimensions of georeferenced information, it seemed to me that the imagined set of her audience was heavily populated by historians. By the time a historian has gotten this far, he or she will be more than ready to imagine and embrace the near future of possibilities for research and teaching so capably presented by the author.

I did notice one defect in the overall presentation. At the end of most chapters, there are lists of sources for further information, but some of these are not included in the references section at the end of the book. This problem made it frustrating when I tried to find one of the sources but could not remember in which chapter it had been listed.

I want to emphasize in closing a major advantage of georeferencing information. As publishers become more reluctant to publish monographs, especially long ones, and any sort of appendix with information tables, historians will have to move increasingly toward digital publication to make their work available to other researchers. Moreover, no monograph includes references to all of the information discovered by the author during his or her research, and these products of so much hard work often disappear, forcing others to expend unnecessary effort to reacquire the same data. If this information were converted into digital form, georeferenced, and distributed through the Internet, it could be discovered by other researchers interested in the same place and integrated into their work, enriching the profession and raising the academic profile of history as a discipline. Such collaboration will require professional protocols about the use of shared, distributed data and joint publication of research results, as already exist for other disciplines. It is time for our major professional associations around the world to establish and publicize such standards.

J. B. Owens
Idaho State University

David E. Nye. Technology Matters: Questions to Live With. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006. xiv, 282 pp. Notes, bibliography, index. $27.95 (cloth) ISBN-10: 0-262-14093-4 ISBN-13: 978-0-262-14093-5

One gets the impression that David E. Nye's works are a series of interlocking augers, all part of a process whereby, over the years, he has been drilling down to the core issue of technology and the American soul. This latest work by the Professor of Comparative American Studies, University of Warwick, United Kingdom  [1], provides a holistic glimpse of the many-faceted technological crystal: the human relationship with tools and technology from birth, social and political pressures that generate technological development as well as those that reject or inhibit it, historical chance and deliberate manipulation of opportunity that affect "progress," and the multiple problems inherent in technology's adversarial role with nature.

Beginning with an etymological look at the word "technology"-how it evolved from arts and crafts to encompass the vast array of devices, processes and systems that permeate our society—Nye seems to be viewing human interaction with technology on a global scale. This is, however, a work focused on the United States-not at all surprising, given his specialization and body of work.  [2]

His ten "Questions to Live With" are each presented around an argument against technological determinism: the view of technology as an inevitable force for change in society. Nye uses various technologies and cultures as examples of how people either rejected technology successfully or used a technology in ways not predicted by its inventor. Determinists, he argues, see technology as an external, irresistible force which shapes society in a predictable, homogeneous fashion. Historians are contextualists, however, and "... contend that new technologies are shaped by social conditions, prices, traditions, popular attitudes, interest groups, class differences, and government policy" (p.19). He suggests we need to view technology as shaped by us rather than the other way around. Then, aided by an understanding of history, sociology, anthropology, economics, and politics, we can more accurately discern how people interact with technology and understand how our use of technology affects our own lives and the planet on which we live.

Some of his examples in support of his argument against determinism seem stretched; he works very hard to fit so much into the either/or nature of determinists vs. contextualists theme. He seems to believe that, as long as we view technology from a deterministic standpoint, we will feel powerless to control it. When, in Nye's viewpoint, we see technology in its full context, we can take responsibility for controlling it. However, for this American, technology feels like a variety of tools and the generator of products I use or reject and, at the same time, a tsunami of societal and environmental ills headed right for my neighborhood. Thus, it is both, and that is the basis of the struggle for the American soul. Our society is locked into a birth-to-death regime of consumerism. Capitalism has, in effect, become a caricature of itself and a political argument is valid only when it has a dollar sign attached to it. Perhaps that is why technology feels like an irresistible force and is so often portrayed as such by popular culture and the media. Technology is, as Nye says the determinists see it, very much a generator and a product of the free market in this country. That's why, in a country where capitalism has gone amok, it is so difficult to regulate technologies that pollute if they also make a profit. On the other hand, Nye illuminates how deeply embedded technology is in our psyches, and that may explain our ability to use some technologies in ways never envisioned by their creators or reject some technologies despite their being marketed to us feverishly.

Still, Nye's argument that we can-we must-control technology rather than vice versa is the crux of his work. He suggests that a well-informed government that listens to the opinions of its citizens as well as industry leaders will make better decisions and pleads for social conscience, supported by the informed advice of scientists, engineers, and consumers. He urges the re-establishment of the Office of Technology Assessment (1972-1995), which the 104th Congress under Newt Gingrich defunded and ultimately caused to close and which other nations have used as a model for their own expert advisory councils.

This book belongs on required reading lists for any course touching on technology, including communications, sociology, history, and economics. If given a chance to stimulate discussion in high schools and colleges, Nye's work may in fact help build the well-informed populace who will intelligently, in his words, "...choose how technology matters."

Carol Fitzgerald
National Renewable Energy Laboratory Library
Golden, Colorado

1. David E. Nye Faculty Web Page, University of Warwick, Comparative American Studies, viewed 3/30/2007.

2. Publications by David E. Nye, University of Southern Denmark: viewed 3/30/2007.